Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen
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There’s something about snow that suits comic violence. The white brings out the red in the blood. It worked a treat for the Coen brothers back in the 1990s. Now, with In Order of Disappearance, Norway is making a killing.
The film follows follows Nils (Skarsgård), a harmless Swede who has just been named Citizen of the Year by his adopted village home. He’s quiet, polite and clears the road of snow for a living. So when his son turns up dead up a train station – bumped off by some drug dealers – he does what any honourable, quiet, polite citizen of the year would: he hunts them down and kills them.
It might sound like Nils is doing a Liam Neeson, but In Order of Disappearance is deeper than that – or at least more diverse. Tying together a range of tropes, from Tarantino to the Coens, it has a smart humour that eludes most papa-out-for-payback flicks. The bad guys have silly schoolboy nicknames, such as Strike, while everyone laughs at Nils’ surname – and his brother’s chosen moniker, “Wingman”. Pål Sverre Hagen’s leader, The Count, meanwhile, is pathetically dim, failing to raise his son even more than he struggles to keep his wobbly empire together.
If henchmen talking the trivialities of the Norwegian welfare state is a little Pulp Fiction, though, the violence has all the bluntness of its home country – one that sees people shot, beaten and run over with grim, unglorified brutality. Bruno Ganz leads the pack of Serbian rivals to The Count with a suitably ruthless air, ordering deaths before sipping tea in a warehouse full of ornate chandeliers. The result is a familiar mix of oddball giggles and gore, which writer Kim Fupz Aakeson juggles with bleak precision, mocking and morbidly dispatching characters in equal measure.
But what marks In Order of Disappearance out from the comic crime crowd – and ties the tonal shifts together – is its vulnerable streak. Stellan Skarsgård is surprisingly sympathetic as Nils, a ploughman sandwiched between loneliness and a lust for revenge. It’s no surprise that Aakeson and Petter Moland have worked together with Skarsgård before (on 2010’s A Somewhat Gentle Man), crafting a role that’s tailored for the against-type nice guy. Where Neeson and his ilk are invincible vigilantes, despite a sense of compassion, Skarsgård is weak and frail; he can batter a man’s face in, but he has to sit down afterwards. One scene sees him leaning against his vehicle, laughing with a victim; an old man taking a breather. Another sees him strangle a gangster in a van, with director Petter Moland focusing on just his legs, twitching endlessly as the pensioner takes his time to chalk up another corpse.
Every time he’s done, he tosses a body off a cliff, a ritual underlined with a black title card containing a name and a cross – a benediction as wickedly funny as it is respectfully sombre. Here is where In Order of Disappearance finds its groove; philosophical yet irreverent, silly yet spiritual. As Nils drives off into the distance, his cleaning of the streets sprays guts all over the frosty, pristine landscape. Fargo meets Taken? You wonder why Norway hasn’t made it sooner. The snowy backdrop brings out the darkness of the red; familiar thrills given a crisp, fresh voice.
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